It's no secret, decks are expensive. If you've built or rehabbed yours lately, you likely felt a little sticker shock when collecting bids.
If you build one yourself, good on you, but I know the cost of materials alone, especially for a composite deck, is enough to keep you up at night.
A multi-year study with stats from 2019, conducted by the aptly named remodeling industry site Remodeling, found that home sellers recouped an average of almost 76% of their project cost for a new wood deck and almost 70% percent for a composite deck.
The study also shows that the amount recouped from wood and composite deck projects has been trending upward in recent years.
Keeping your deck in shape will help you take advantage of that trend if you plan to put your home on the market shortly.
Since the surge in portable fire pit use in the U.S. over the last 20 years, fire pit enthusiasts and newbies alike have pondered whether it's possible or even wise to put one on their deck.
In response to this backyard quandary, several manufacturers have come forward with workarounds that make fire pit use on decks a less risky proposition.
Essential among these workarounds is the fire pit heat shield, designed to reduce or eliminate direct deck exposure to the intense radiant heat (and embers) typical in portable wood-burning fire pits.
One of the earliest pioneers in the fire pit heat shield business is the Allendale, South Carolina-based Allendale FiberTech.
FiberTech's product, designed not only to protect a deck from fire pit heat but also from hot debris, has a solid toe-hold in the market, and that doesn't look like it will change any time soon.
Allendale Fibertech's DeckProtect (click to see it on Amazon) is a portable heat and fire-resistant barrier that protects wood and composite decks from damage during wood-burning fire pit use.
The barrier's support structure is made from aluminum and is held up by five rubber feet. These feet provide enough clearance to allow water to drain through perforations in the tray and to permit airflow underneath.
The surface of the barrier contains a combination of heat and fire-resistant natural and artificial fibers.
Deck Protect is available in square and octagon shapes and multiple sizes to accommodate the wide range of commercially available fire pits.
DeckProtect Initial Observations
One of the first things I noted about this particular fire pit safety shield is that the designers put some thought into it. I'm saying it's different from other barriers in that it's not just a simple protective go-between for the deck and fire pit.
Allendale Fibertech's bread and butter business are textiles, insulation, and composites, and they attacked the fire pit heat problem from that angle.
A “Barrier” Surface: Using volcanic rock fiber in your barrier design is unique but also seems like a lot of trouble. The manufacturer makes it work, weaving it into what they refer to as a “basalt rock-fiber insulation” that acts as the primary surface on which the fire pit will sit.
Nerd alert: Looking into why volcanic rock fiber might be used in this product, I discovered it's a widely proven technology in the thermal insulation business, beating out fiberglass insulation in heat transfer comparisons.
Not only that, it's fireproof! Who knew? This insulation is the product's secret sauce for protecting decks from heat damage.
A Barrier Support Structure: The barrier is held together by an aluminum tray that holds the basalt rock-fiber insulation in place and is supported by five rubber feet evenly dispersed for stability and to allow airflow underneath.
The tray features multiple drain holes to allow for adequate drainage after periods of rain. In addition, the five rubber feet provide the tray with about a half-inch clearance above a deck's surface.
How Does the DeckProtect Work?
The heat shield's design is centered around the heat-resistant basalt rock-fiber insulation, which sits on top of a slightly raised and ventilated heavy-gauge aluminum. Airflow under the barrier working with the heat-resistant properties of the insulation, keeps deck temperatures down, eliminating the potential of damage from excessive heat.
DeckProtect Bottom-Line Performance
I liked a lot of things about this fire pit pad, and not a lot I didn't. But the main question, considering a lot is riding on the answer, is; did it work, and how well?
Does the DeckProtect work as advertised?
Concerning what the DeckProtect is designed to protect wood and composite decks from heat damage, it does that job very well.
I have an older composite deck that's best days, at least cosmetically, are behind it. It has this white/gray fade from exposure to the sun for many years.
The previous owners put it in. I don't want to replace it as it's still structurally sound, but I'm sensitive to any unnecessary scorching, melting, pitting from flying embers, etc.
If that happens, the damage is going to stand out.
But…so far, so good. It's warm to the touch, using a standard wood-burning fire pit bowl with an eight-inch clearance, but well below anything that would put either a composite or wood deck at risk.
I'd recommend measuring the diameter of your fire pit's bowl, or outer rim, if you don't know it, and find the DeckProtect size that accommodates that measurement, and then go one size up from there.
No complaint here per se, but you'll get a greater area of heat protection, and that extra barrier surface area can catch embers that may spill from your fire pit bowl when adding wood or when wood shifts during burning—just my .02¢.
Deck Protect: The Good
Construction: When doing initial research on the DeckProtect, I had concerns about its construction and ability to hold a fully loaded wood-burning fire pit level, especially with frequent long-term use.
One thing, in particular, stood out; the manufacturer chose aluminum for the barrier's frame, a choice I assume was since it is much lighter than steel. Steel would have been stronger, likely cheaper, and more heat resistant, so I was kind of scratching my head on that.
However, DeckProtect's very low profile (½ in. ground clearance) and its weight is evenly distributed and supported by short rubber feet on the barrier's corners and in the center, dramatically reducing the stress on the barrier's 1/16 heavy-gauge aluminum.
The DeckProtect's innovative and well-performing insulation layers make the metal heat-resistance concern moot.
Water Resistance: DeckProtect barrier's insulation is designed to be waterproof and the multiple drain holes in the aluminum tray coupled with the ability for air to flow beneath speed the drying process.
Speaking of water, when looking into this specific fire pit pad, I did have some concerns about mold or rotting from outside moisture, rain, etc. Left outside in the elements, things like this typically don't hold up very well.
The manufacturer does state that the insulation material is rot-proof.
A quick check of the article I linked to above (minor nerd alert), talking about volcanic rock-fiber insulation (see Deck Protect Features section above) confirms this, stating, “rock and slag wool insulation resists the growth of mold, fungi, and bacteria because they are inorganic.” (Source: insulation.org)
Time will tell…
I'll validate that hereafter some time passes. Reviews I've read elsewhere consistently confirm the rot-proofing, but I like to find things out for myself.
Lots of Size Options: This is an area where there is a distinct difference between DeckProtect and the competition. Most deck fire pit barriers on the market offer a one-size-fits-all option.
Deck Protect, is available in a variety of sizes in square and octagonal shapes; plus, if you contact the company directly, they will make a DeckProtect fire pit barrier to your measurement specifications.
A lot of the downside of competing fire pit barriers, from a functionality and safety standpoint, is due to size, and I cover that in a separate article about the safe use of fire pits on decks – check it out here, The Ultimate Guide to Using a Fire Pit On Decking.
Most commercially available barriers are too big or too small, with little compromise. That gap is this manufacturer's sweet spot.
The Trex endorsement. If you know the major players in the composite decking industry, you are probably familiar with the Trex brand.
In 2014, when the growth in fire pit interest was hitting its stride, Trex stated publicly and absolutely that you needed a heat-resistant barrier if using a fire pit on their product and mentioned DeckProtect by name.
Lucky break for the DeckProtect's manufacturer, Allendale Fibertech.
That's not to say that there aren't comparable products out there that perform equally, but it doesn't hurt to have Trex dropping your name.
Here's an excerpt of Trex's statement (see the full letter below the excerpt):
“Wood burning fire pits are not recommended on top of Trex decking unless using a product called DeckProtect™. Wood burning fire pits can damage the decking due to the extreme heat from the bottom of the fire pit and/or burning embers “shooting” onto the decking. DeckProtect™ was tested on all Trex decking and there were no issues with burning of the decking surface when placed directly under a standard size portable fire pit along with the accompanying rack.” (Source Credit: Trex.com)
Check with your specific manufacturer if you have a composite deck product other than Trex.
Featuring by a home improvement/restoration show.
Here's an online mention of DeckProtect from the site of the popular TV show This Old House in a previous article covering fire pit set-up and safety:
“A fire screen can contain errant sparks and embers on a wood deck, but composite decking needs to be protected from the bowl as well. A metal fire pit can reach up to 800°F, pushing 200° to 400° of radiant heat onto decking; plastics soften at 176° and melt between 250° and 350°. A thermal barrier can prevent high heat from warping composites. DeckProtect (shown) is an aluminum tray, perforated for drainage, that contains flameproof basalt rock-fiber insulation. Choose one the size of the fire pit’s circumference to fit between the legs or, better yet, with all four legs on the mat.” (Source Credit: thisoldhouse.com)
DeckProtect: The Not So Good
So, it's not all rainbows and unicorns. Still, if your product is going to have a weakness, the following is where you want to be, mainly when safety and protecting property is the objective.
Looks: It's not the nicest looking fire pit pad on the market. I'm more of a function-over-form guy regarding things like this, but I can't deny that I'd like it to look a little better.
Of course, looks don't always equal performance, and I think this manufacturer understands and owns it.
On the other hand, some buyers providing consumer reviews stated that they liked how it looked, so you'll have to decide if this fire pit pad's style fits into your personal deck “motif.”
DeckProtect vs. the Competition
Fire pit users have three barriers on the market today to choose from.
First are the thin circular type barriers made of some type of fire-resistant material or polymer. They are typically cheaper price-wise than other fire pit barriers on the market.
In my opinion, these thin circular barriers are also the riskiest option. They will protect your deck to some extent from radiant heat, but their utility is diminished if you have a lower clearance fire bowl. Additionally, their construction is not geared for the long term.
The second type is the metal platform barrier, typically made of steel, that raises the fire pit off the deck a few inches allowing airflow underneath and additional standoff from the surface.
While it does the job and I like the design in principle, the platform on which the fire pit is too small, in my opinion. The feet of the average wood-burning fire pit will touch or almost touch the edges.
If the fire pit is bumped and one of the legs goes over the edge and is no longer supported, you risk tipping. Not good.
This type of barrier is better suited for the SoloStove, Flame Genie, or Double Flame type fire pit with a round base that has positive 360° contact and sits perfectly centered.
The third type is the paver-frame type fire pit barrier. For me, this type is at or near the top of the fire pit barrier food chain. The barrier is a solid metal frame that holds stone pavers into place to provide a heat-resistant surface.
These paver barriers are big enough to accommodate most fire pits, look pretty good (you can add decorative pavers that suit your tastes), and get the job done.
These three examples, the flat circular type, paver type (click to see them on Amazon), or metal platform type is not entirely representative of what's available currently but are a sampling of the kind of barriers in widespread use today.
In some cases, multiple versions of a type are made by different manufacturers with varying construction and performance.
How does the DeckProtect stand up to these fire pit barrier options?
- Compared to the thin circular type barrier, the DeckProtect provides a barrier that is off the ground and a significantly more robust heat and ember resistant barrier, in a wider variety of sizes, designed for long-term use.
- The metal platform barriers perform well in the task of protecting decks from heat damage; however, I'm still concerned about accidental tipping from the small platform.
If the right size is selected in the DeckProtect, there should be more than enough edge so the fire pit's legs have plenty of space all around when the fire pit is centered on the barrier, minimizing tip risk.
- It's from the paver frame type barrier that the DeckProtect has the most competition in my estimation. Both do the main job very well, protecting decks from heat damage.
The paver frame barrier is going to be much heavier overall and doesn't come ready to go out of the box. Moving the paver frame barrier will definitely take two people to do, vice one for the DeckProtect.
If looks are important to you, the paver-type barrier wins hands-down, and as I mentioned, you are providing the pavers so you can select stones in various colors, patterns, etc.
Finally, as mentioned before, the paver-type barrier only comes in one size but it will work for most fire pits. The DeckProtect comes in multiple shapes and sizes.
DeckProtect Review Conclusion
Overall, the DeckProtect fire pit barrier is a solid choice when looking for an option that will not only protect your wood or composite deck but is well made (in the U.S.), built to last, and endorsed by respected home improvement industry and media players like Trex and This Old House.
Looks aside, the DeckProtect's (click to see it on Amazon) innovative heat, fire, and water-resistant design, coupled with a wide variety of size and shape options, definitely makes it one of the better fire pit barrier choices commercially available to consumers.
Before you go, don't forget to check out my article on using fire pits on decking for more information on the topic.
Thanks for checking out my review and get ready for more to follow!